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Private Vehicle Aversion Therapy

By Dave Haste Last edited 130 months ago
Private Vehicle Aversion Therapy
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We briefly mentioned yesterday that Ken is thinking of imposing significantly higher congestion charges on the drivers of the more environmentally-unfriendly cars that enter the congestion charge zone.

Let’s make no bones about it. Coupled with the existing higher road tax for gas-guzzlers, this sort of measure would represent a real incentive for drivers to develop an environmental conscience when choosing which cars (if any) to drive. Bravo! Sort-of.

But has Ken got this measure right? Does the approach of charging people extra based on their cars’ CO2 emissions per kilometre actually reflect a proportionally accurate penalty for the environmental damage that they’re causing?

Let’s look at a real-world example, based on the driving habits of some ‘acquaintances’ of ours…

One ‘acquaintance’ owns a Fiat Punto, which is a “Band C” (i.e. relatively low emissions) car that emits 140 grams of CO2 per kilometre travelled (according to the VCA Car Fuel Data website). Another owns a Mazda RX-8, which is “Band G” (the highest) and emits 284 grams of CO2 per kilometre – double that of the Punto.

So, clearly the RX-8 driver is doing more damage to the environment, isn’t he? He is certainly paying more than double the road tax of the Punto driver (£210 as opposed to £100) because of the cars’ relative emission ratings, and if Ken has his way he would also have to pay more than three times the congestion charge if he drove into central London (£25 instead of a probable £8). Too right – that’ll teach him to drive a gas-guzzler!

But wait. The RX-8 driver only uses his silly sports car very occasionally, and clocks up less than 4000 miles (about 6500 kilometres) in a year. Over the course of a year, therefore, his car is dumping a whopping 1800 kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere. However, the Punto driver uses her modest little car every day, and drives about 12000 miles (19000 kilometres) in an average year, during which period her car will have belched out a staggering 2700 kilograms of nasty CO2 into the poor environment! Eeek.

So in this example, the driver whose car is causing by far the most environmental damage is being charged significantly lower road tax and (hypothetical) congestion charge rates. Doesn’t really add up as an effective incentive to be kinder to the environment, does it?

Maybe Ken (and the DVLA) should look into ways of combining annual mileage with the current car emissions ratings when working out how to apply these charges. That would really encourage drivers to be environmentally responsible. However, that sort of approach would probably be tricky and expensive to enforce. It would be much easier to just slap another tax on the fuel.

But that’s not all. What about the number of passengers in the car? Both cars in our example can accommodate 4 adult occupants (more-or-less), but a gas-guzzling Toyota Previa (“Band G”, 259 grams of CO2 per kilometre) can seat double this number. This seems to illustrate yet another discrepancy, where the environmental damage per passenger may be lower but the car can still attract a higher charge.

Then again, looking at these alarming quantities of greenhouse gases, maybe no Londoners should own cars anyway. After all, we’ve got a fantastic integrated public transport system. (Integrated, that is, until you try and use Oyster pre-pay on the trains.)

Let us know what you think…

Last Updated 14 July 2006